“Gears of War 3” reminds me of nothing so much as a classic music video. It takes the emotional energy of classic “Gears of War” trailers–Mad World, Ashes to Ashes and War Pigs–and turns it into a big playable experience. The rage rock of the AC/DC song, the mournful recontextualization of the Tears for Fears track shoot through the actual game that’s out this week, giving everything a wounded emo vibe.
Just as the soldiers in the Delta Squad team have come to grips with a world where tomorrow brings just more of the same grueling conflict, lead character Marcus Fenix finds himself having to face up to the fact that his supposedly dead father may still be alive. More than that, the discovery that Dr. Adam Fenix has hit upon may make the vengeful Locust species and their mutated Lambent cousins disappear off the face of planet Sera forever. The peace-through-genocide premise of “Gears of War 3” resonates because its predecessors –no matter what plot contrivances they put you through–always made you feel surrounded by concentric circles of hostility. It felt like everything in the game was trying to kill you, and hiding behind a slab of concrete and shooting at just the right moments was the only way you’d live to see the next five minutes.
All the desperate cover-based combat of the five-year “Gears” cycle has led to this moment and the Epic Games dev studio has made sure that this title feels sharper to play than the two that have come before it. There’s a wider panoply of guns and enemies in the Campaign Mode, which itself feels sharply paced during its 12-14 hours of playtime.
The multiplayer options for “Gears 3” represent the most robust online offering in franchise history so far. There’s the previously discussed changes to Horde Mode that make it a more layered experience than before. The new game also see a variant called Beast Mode which lets players control the Locust and Lambent bad guys as they hunt and kill their human prey with gory, super-powerful moves specific to them.
Overall, “Gears of War 3” feels like a series that’s closing out one phase of its evolution in its best possible iteration. The game’s ending provides real closure and the gameplay shows off the work of a team that’s iterated on the experience that they want to deliver until it’s been burnished to a high sheen. It’s a must-buy for action-loving Xbox 360 owners.